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Absolute pitch and related abilities

  • Author(s): Dooley, Kevin David
  • et al.
Abstract

Absolute pitch (AP) is a rare ability whose relevance to musical proficiency has so far been unclear. Three studies were conducted to explore this question. In the first study, 60 trained musicians - 30 who self-reported AP and 30 with equivalent age of onset and duration of musical training - were administered a test for AP and also a musical dictation test not requiring AP. Performance on both types of test were highly correlated. The findings support the hypothesis that AP is associated with proficiency in performing other musical tasks, and run counter to the claim that it confers a disadvantage in the processing of relative pitch. In the second study, 36 trained musicians - 18 AP possessors and 18 non-possessors with equivalent age of onset and duration of musical training - were tested on interval naming tasks requiring only relative pitch. The intervals to be named were either ascending or descending, with separation ranging from 1 to 12 semitones, and equally involved all 12 pitch classes. Three different conditions were employed; these used brief sine waves, piano tones, and piano tones preceded by a V7- I chord cadence so as to establish a tonal context. AP possession was strongly correlated with enhanced performance on all these tests of relative pitch. Furthermore, no evidence was found that this absolute pitch advantage depended on key, interval size, or musical context. In the third study, 36 trained musicians--18 AP possessors and 18 non-possessors with equivalent age of onset and duration of musical training--were asked to recall and vocalize a familiar song, and their responses were compared with the pitches of the actual recordings; this was repeated with their cell phone ringtones. Both groups were significantly more accurate than chance on the song task, but only the AP possessors performed above chance on the ringtone task. The findings confirm the existence of widespread long term pitch memory but also point to an AP advantage under some circumstances

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